Building the creative confidence in your child

The recent TED talk by Dr David Kelley: “How to build your creative confidence” interests me greatly. I liked the idea that the world is not divided into the ‘practical’ and the ‘creatives’. According to his bio on, he is the “founder of legendary design firm IDEO. He built the company that created many icons of the digital generation — the first mouse, the first Treo, the thumbs up/thumbs down button on your Tivo’s remote control, to name a few. But what matters even more to him is unlocking the creative potential of people and organizations so they can innovate routinely.” (Source:

Innovate routinely. A paradox of terms. We think people who do routine work cannot innovate and vice-versa. Yet the term itself speaks volumes.

Innovation is present in all of us. It is up to us to create the confidence in the child to allow him space to think. To create. To innovate. Within the current constraints.

I believe that having constraints helped us to be more creative and innovative.

To have an abundance of resources – time, money and goods can make us lazy and takes things for granted. A scarcity of resources make us more acutely aware of our “cost” for doing something. Budgeting and cutting down cost to build a viable business becomes my priority when I went to business. I had to find out the best way to do things to maximise my limited resources. I also wanted to give time to people since I have a more flexible schedule. So how do I creatively weave my work, my development of materials and also volunteering in non-profits and lead educational trips into my 24 hours? I find that I work best in pockets of time. In between my meetings with other people to bounce off ideas, share dreams or just to be present for them. Hoarding my time makes me less productive. By giving my time liberally and yet being strict to maintain routines to get good work done makes me appreciate structures. Structures help us scaffold things. Yet how often we worship structures and neglect developing our creative self? Striking a balance is important.

In his TED talk Dr David Kelley mentioned about how a certain psychologist, Dr Albert Bandura who helped his participants overcome their phobia of snakes. Dr Bandura is a renown psychologist from Stanford.  “In 1963 he published Social Learning and Personality Development. In 1974 Stanford University awarded him an endowed chair and he became David Starr Jordan Professor of Social Science in Psychology. In 1977, he published Social Learning Theory, a book that altered the direction psychology took in the 1980s.

While investigating the processes by which modeling alleviates phobic disorders in snake-phobics, he found that self-efficacy beliefs (which the phobic individuals had in their own capabilities to alleviate their phobia) mediated changes in behavior and in fear-arousal. He launched a major program of research examining the influential role of self-referent thought in psychological functioning. Although he continued to explore and write on theoretical problems relating to myriad topics, from the late 1970s he devoted much attention to exploring the role of self-efficacy beliefs in human functioning. ” (Source:

The experiment involved helping the participants to get rid of their phobias of snakes through a series of steps, which he named, guided mastery. Dr Bandura was able to help the participants get rid of their phobia within a short period of 4 hours! He found that once the participants have overcome their phobia of snakes, they become less anxious, try harder, persevere and have new confidence! We have phobia because of our fear of judgement. 


We live in a world where our beliefs shaped our thinking. For example, for a long time, I thought my English was not good. How can I blog about things? I knew I can never draw anything presentable. I also had a phobia of big dogs. I remember once I quickly shut the door on a big dog at a friend’s house cos when the dog stood on its hind legs, it was very intimidating! I was afraid of the dog! It was as tall as me as look ferocious. (okay, granted I am really not very tall in the first place!)

I also knew I was quite good in Science, in teaching and also in technology planning. And my work history testify to that. People are willing to pay me good money for work in Science and technology. But is that all I am good at?

It took a good art teacher and mentor to helped me see that I can paint. It was an accidental discovery. But this teacher believed that every student can paint. Simple as that. When he first asked everyone in the class to submit their paintings for his exhibition, I was shocked! Can I? I just started learning. But his belief in us, his students were amazing. He simply believed that everyone that he taught can paint. A couple of years later, I paint to raise funds, to give as gifts and to use for talks. I even illustrate the Yong Tau Foo team© and did a couple of logos plus incorporate in my workshops the beauty of using Chinese ink:) Not because I am good or the best but because it is a series of guided mastery that my teacher did. Plus my willingness to try new things. To persevere. To put in the hours.

My phobia of dogs took a longer time. It took me more than 10 years. Yet it was through a friend’s dog, Forest, a spitzer that I learnt to overcome my fear of dogs. Forest was a white and beautiful dog who always welcome me unreservedly when I go to my friend’s house. I would have never imagine myself, filming with big dogs and giving a talk on World Animal Day. A person who have never owned a pet in her whole life!

Building creative confidence in your child is not easy but it is not difficult either. Do you scaffold events for him to innovate routinely?

I believe every child, every person has the creative capacity. Recently after filming at my bro’s house, I witness first hand

With the homemade magnet (solenoid)
With the homemade magnet (solenoid)

how scaffolding helps my nephew, Johanand. He was supposed to be studying for his exam. His science exam. After taking a quick look at his book, he put it down and declare to his sis that he needs to make the magnet. It is part of his assignment for his science. His older sis, a Sec 1 student shook her head in disbelief. She did not believe that he needs to do the project.

I was observing their behaviour. It was an interesting case study for me. After some 10 mins of haggling, the sis left to study for her own exams. I then told Johanand to draw for me the science experiment he is supposed to do. He drew quite a good pix of a solenoid. Ok, knowing that he is an active boy, I said, “let’s do it!” For him the best way to learn could be just doing the experiment

We went to the nearby DIY shop and bought some nails, some pieces of copper wire and batteries. I helped him with the setup. The experiment worked! He was so happy and grinning from year to year. He proudly showed off how the magnetised nail could pick up a small piece of staple.

The small achievement makes him work harder. He started trying to use 2 batteries to test the strength. When he finally went to play football with his friends, he put his “magnet” near to him, a precious testament to him that science works:)

As educators, what are we teaching the people around us? Those young minds? Are we imparting that they can achieve? Or are we slotting them into analytical thinkers, creative thinkers, and if you are in one category, you cannot be in another.

I believe our minds are dynamic. Our habits can be changed. As schools move into the 21st century, let’s be mindful of our subtle hidden message. If a child does not achieve in a paper examination, is he stupid? Is he lazy or simply not motivated enough?

Each of us can be a complete Yong Tau Foo Team© with capacity to collaborate, communicate, be creative and think critically. Let us be humble enough to accept that when things go wrong, it can sometimes be that we need to adjust the way we look at people.

Are our habits of thinking about students effective in promoting an innovative and creative culture in schools?

Useful links:

Dr David Kelly: How to build your creative confidence? 

Dr Albert Bandura: Biography

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